This post first appeared in Faith’s Foundations, the newsletter of Faith Lutheran Church in Three Lakes, WI.
I must admit, the sudden approach of Lent is catching me off guard!
Lent is one of those interesting seasons that moves about in the church–the other being Easter, and its moving around is why Lent moves around. Unlike Christmas Day (December 25), Epiphany (January 6), or All Saints’ Day (November 1), Lent and Easter bounce around because the Resurrection of Our Lord—Easter Day—doesn’t have a set date. The calculation that determines the date of Easter is wildly complex: it says that the Resurrection of Our Lord falls on the first Sunday following the ecclesiastical full moon (the 14th day of the month in the ecclesiastical lunar calendar, which is a calendar nobody anywhere uses for anything else) after March 21, the Vernal Equinox, whether or not March 21 is the actual astronomical Vernal Equinox.
Because of this way of calculating the date of Easter—usually shortened to the first Sunday after the first full Moon after the Spring Equinox—Easter falls anywhere between March 22 and April 25 inclusive. And because Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent, is always 46 days (40 fasting days and 6 Sundays) before Easter, that means Lent begins anywhere from February 4 to March 10 inclusive.
All of this is to say that since it moves around like that, Lent can really sneak up on you! Which, when I think about it, is not such a bad thing after all.
Lent is a necessary season in the church because of it’s focus on preparation, repentance, penance, giving to the poor, and self-examination. It is a reminder to us that though we are rescued from bondage to sin and death by Christ’s death and resurrection, we are still sinners in our own right who need God’s grace. Such self-reflection can be uncomfortable—we don’t always like to look at the less pleasant sides of ourselves, and we would avoid it if we could. Lent doesn’t let us do that, and further, it surprises us each when as to when it wants us to start.
I know that if I had the choice, I’d put it off as long as possible, all the way to March 10. But I don’t have that choice. Lent starts when it starts, and this year, it starts on February 10 (for comparison, next year it starts on March 1!).
We don’t always have a choice whether or not to confront our brokenness and humanity. But far from being a curse, there is a blessing here. Lent crops up on us when we least expect it, and it isn’t always the most fun or joyful season. But Lent does end—it lasts 46 days, and is followed immediately by the joy of Easter. While our introspection and reflection should continue our entire lives, Lent, a time set aside specifically for that purpose, always resolves into resurrection and new life.
During this Lent season, we will have many opportunities to gather together for worship and to do our self-reflection together as a community—there is a schedule and explanation of these opportunities later in this newsletter. I strongly encourage you to take advantage of as many of these as possible as we prepare ourselves during this Lenten season.